After a nine-year relationship and months of tension between the two sides, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Antonio Brown have finally divorced.
News broke Saturday night that Brown was being traded to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round and a fifth-round draft pick. The disgruntled receiver will have his demands met, as he’ll be rewarded with $30 million in guaranteed money over the next three years, according to NBC Sports.
While Brown is still one of the best receivers in the league, the Steelers were essentially forced to let him go for a pair of mid-round picks. And even without him on the roster, the Steelers will still take a massive cap hit in 2019 thanks to Brown’s contract.
Antonio Brown is gone from Pittsburgh, but not forgotten. Brown will leave the Steelers with a dead-money salary-cap charge of over $21 million this season, thought to be the biggest one-year salary-cap charge in NFL history.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 10, 2019
Brown’s relationship with the Steelers deteriorated in earnest in recent months, though the acrimony between the two sides dates back a couple of years.
It seemed to start two years ago, when Brown posted a now-infamous Facebook Live video of head coach Mike Tomlin dissing the Patriots following a Steelers playoff win.
Brown was widely criticized over the video, but received just a slap on the wrist in terms of league discipline. He was fined $10,000 for the act, though The Wall Street Journal had previously reported Brown was being paid $244,000 by Facebook to create live videos in the first place.
There were other incidents as well. Brown was cited for speeding on the day of a game last November, and got into a public spat with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that made it seem like Tomlin didn’t have a hold on the situation.
Add in the giant headache that ex-Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell caused last season, even though he wasn’t present, and it’s hard to deny that much of the dysfunction in Steelers’ headquarters falls on the head coach.
One Steelers legend who was coached by Tomlin agrees.
“I think that only changes when you start from the top, you got to start from the top, and that starts with head coach,” former Steelers linebacker James Harrison said on NFL Network the week before the Super Bowl.
“(Tomlin) has a thing where he says, ‘I’m going to treat everybody fair but I’m not going to treat everybody the same.’ Your fairness may be interpreted as favoritism to other players,” he added.
“And the fact that you’re treating everybody what you call fairly but not the same may be interpreted different by different players. And I think right now it’s a combination of that going on and maybe a little bit of a lack of actual leadership. Someone that’s saying it’s going to be A and B to get to C.”
Harrison also said that “winning covers up a lot” and that the Steelers’ struggles last season contributed to stories of turmoil leaking out. He also suggested Tomlin is on the hot seat entering 2019.
“I feel like he has a year and he has a chance to try and get things back to where they need to be,” Harrison said of Tomlin.
“But I feel like it’s at that point where you’re saying the same message, everyone has heard the same message, and I don’t know if necessarily they’re buying into the message. And I think if he can get that mended, which is going to be hard to do because now you’re going to want to choke back the change on everything that you had doing on before. And that’s going to be hard for players to adjust to and take.”
Tomlin’s job is motivate his players so they perform at their best. Clearly, his motivation methods gave fallen on deaf ears lately, particularly in regard to Brown and Bell.
To be clear, both players have acted selfishly. But that type of behavior has to be enabled. At a certain point, no matter the talent level, players must be coached. In that regard, Tomlin failed.
The Steelers are one of the NFL’s model franchises, not only because of their six Super Bowl victories, but also because of the supposed stability of their front office and coaches.
They’ve had just three head coaches over the last 50 years, but if Tomlin doesn’t get a better grip on his team, then they might need to start thinking about his replacement.
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